Forensic Odontology, aka Forensic Dentistry is “the area of dentistry concerned with the correct management, examination, evaluation, and presentation of dental evidence in criminal or civil legal proceedings in the interest of justice.”1
What Would a Forensic Dentist Need to Help Determine the Identity of Human Remains?
First, an antemortem dental record of the deceased is required. The dental record, a legal document, may contain a list of the fillings, restorations, cavities, health history, dental models, x-rays, and treatment plans amongst other things.
Most States mandate that dental offices keep these records of previous patient for 7-10 years and Federal legislation states pediatric patient records must be held onto up to the age of 18-21 depending on the jurisdiction.1
What is Needed for to Make a Positive Identification with Dental Records?
“Sufficient uniqueness among the comparable items in the antemortem and postmortem databases, and no major differences observed.” This can be accomplished with the front teeth of the skull compared to photographs, previous radiographs, dental implant placements, patterns on the roof of the mouth, radiographic outline of the sinuses, and some specific procedures completed by dentists1.
With that information the Forensic Odontologist can help the Medical Examiner or Coroner determine the body postmortem.
Why Did They Need A Forensic Odontologist?
This part is more speculation on my part, but Laundrie’s body was found in a very warm and humid environment. That combined with potential Florida wildlife can speed up decomposition faster than in other environments2. Because of the quicker decomposition, dental analysis may have been a better option in this case.
- Neville, B. W., Damm, D. D., Allen, C. M., & Chi, A. C. (2016). Oral and maxillofacial pathology. Elsevier.
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